Flying Drones for fun (U.S. rules)

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Flying Drones for fun (U.S. rules)

Post by rowan » Tue Jul 18, 10:17 2017

Drones (aka sUAS - small Unmanned Aircraft Systems) have become a thing in the last few years so I thought I would write up a short thing about the rules governing flying them recreationally. This is all information you can find on the FAA's website for drones. If you're thinking about flying a drone I recommend you look at their site and also get the app B4UFly put out by the FAA.

Some basic rules:
You do not need a license**
You do not need to register your drone if it is under 55lbs as ruled in May 2017**
You must stay below 400 feet altitude above the ground (airplanes are generally above 500 feet unless they have a waiver)
You must keep line of sight view of the drone
Don't fly at night
Don't fly over people
Don't fly "near" airports*
[Bear in mind rules can change, always check the FAA]

*THIS STILL APPLIES TO RECREATIONAL FLYING SO IS IMPORTANT. A lot of guides I see (including the one that came with my drone) just say "Don't fly near airports" but don't say what "near" means. There are two components to this: You can fly within 5 statute miles of an airport (what you would normally think of as a mile) but NOT in controlled airspace. If you are within the 5 statute miles, you MUST contact the airport manager and/or Air Traffic Control (ATC). What does "controlled airspace" mean? Most of those are towered airports, Class B, C, D. But some are class E airports that extend to ground level (surface). MOST small airports are class E that doesn't extend all the way to the ground, but some are, so you need to check. The B4UFly app shows where airspace is and where you can't fly. (You can do this with a waiver but if you're just starting out best to just avoid this entirely, unless you're at a club event) One thing that is not clear to me at the moment is that seaplane bases show up all over the B4UFly app, but are not on my sectional charts. It's unclear to me if those all count or some of those count or who even to contact for the ones that aren't on the sectional charts. (I have a call to our local airport commission on this, or failing that plan to meet the FAA administrator at EAA Airventure next week and will update accordingly). A second issue is that ATC numbers are not publicly available so the edge case where you're trying to fly within 5sm but outside of controlled airspace and need to contact ATC instead of just the airport manager you need to call the airport manager to get ATC's contact information, as per AOPA's suggestions. Where I am, the local park is within 5sm and outside of the controlled airspace of two airports so highly relevant to me since I'd like to just walk over there to practice with my drone.

There are of course other rules but I think these are the most common ones to worry about. Check the FAA website link for more info.

** If you are flying for profit, whether it's selling pictures you've taken via drone, supporting a business, or something more complex, you need a commercial license AND you need to register your drone (if it is heavier than 0.55lbs, which they mostly are if it's not a toy kind). If you want to get a drone license you will want to look at the FAA's Part 107 prep guide. For someone with a private pilot license it's trivial to get the sUAS endorsement. For everyone else you need to learn about a lot of the things involving weather and airspace that I learned for my private pilot, and will have to take an exam at a certified testing center.

Obviously rules are different in other countries so make sure you find out your own if you're overseas or in Canada. Feel free to ask questions! I have my commercial license and a registered drone. I haven't flown it yet but hope to soon! I will post some things about actually flying it as I learn. :)
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Re: Flying Drones for fun (U.S. rules)

Post by Sonic# » Wed Jul 19, 12:36 2017

Thanks for gathering this information. I'm glad I don't need a license to fly recreationally.

I want to get a drone at some point to play around at parks or large lawns. Do you have any recommendations as to good starter drones, in terms of price, accessibility, or good places to buy?

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Re: Flying Drones for fun (U.S. rules)

Post by Bork » Wed Jul 19, 13:27 2017

That's so cool that you have a drone! What are you going to do with it? Just fly it around randomly, or with some purpose in mind?
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Re: Flying Drones for fun (U.S. rules)

Post by rowan » Wed Jul 19, 20:51 2017

Right now I'm just trying it out. :) I'm going to a bunch of drone talks at the EAA next week, and I'm particularly interested in checking out agriculture and conservation work. There are pretty simple ways to test for plant health and soil moisture if you have the right sensors. But that's just a thought - we'll see!
Sonic# wrote:I want to get a drone at some point to play around at parks or large lawns. Do you have any recommendations as to good starter drones, in terms of price, accessibility, or good places to buy?
If you're under 0.55 lbs you will probably want to go look around at some reviews as I knew I wanted something with more heft to it. The one I got is more of what I'd call a mid-range drone. I got it on prime day so we got a more souped up version than the one I originally had been looking at for the same price, but you're talking $1000-2000 for those. DJI seems to have largely cornered the market but we wanted one that we could get into programming a little more so we went with the Yuneec Typhoon H Pro. DJI's similar level model is the Phantom 4 and I was pretty tempted by it. There was another one by 3DRobotics that I really liked but it looks like they over-hyped their company and wound up peaking and crashing fast. Which is too bad, it looked like a good product, they just had some bad management strategy. Both DJI and Yuneec have smaller drones (but still above 0.55 lbs) that might be worth checking into.

We looked in Best Buy just to take an actual look at them but most places looked like they were listing for about the same prices. I don't like Amazon and I don't like Best Buy, but the price was right. I originally had planned to actually buy straight from the company itself (which had the same price until the sale).
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